Even though the Yale coed sailing team is ranked No. 1 in the country, most of its members were not recruited to sail for the Bulldogs.
Unlike most Yale varsity sports that maintain a full roster of recruits year after year, the coed sailing team has historically relied heavily on walk-on team members in order to train and compete. Walk-ons account for about two-thirds of the Yale coed sailing program, skipper Joe Morris ’12 said.
“I love how our team needs both the recruited members and walk-ons to work properly,” crew Blair Belling ’11 said.
The team has two to three recruits every year, according to coed captain Thomas Barrows ’10. The recruiting system, which allows for only a handful of spots every year, nevertheless draws some of the best sailors from around the country because of the Yale training facility on Long Island Sound and the program’s record, according to Barrows. At the same time, with only two to three seats reserved for new sailors, the majority of the team is made up of walk-ons, who have a wide range of experience.
Walk-on members of this year’s coed squad joined the team for a variety of reasons. Some are top sailors who were not recruited but still want to sail for the Bulldogs. Others had never set foot in a boat. Most had some pre-collage sailing experience, but had not competed at the top national levels.
“People can walk on their freshman year, and if they’re willing to work hard to be a good crew they can make All-American by their senior year,” Morris said.
The team makes its biannual recruiting drive at both the freshman activities bazaar and Bulldog Days. With full sails on display, the team has in past years publicized the possibility of joining without much sailing experience.
While the recruits submit medical forms before the beginning of school and begin sailing immediately, the walk-ons have to work to catch up in early September. Christopher Ell ’12, a self-described “decent” sailor was not recruited but said he came to Yale with the intention of sailing for the Bulldogs.
The logistical challenge of needing to wait for paperwork to be processed before being able to start sailing at the beginning of the year was the most frustrating part of the process, he said.
“I had to wait a while and join with the other walk-ons,” he said. “It was a tremendous hassle. It couldn’t have gone less efficiently.”
Once they submit the paperwork to the Athletic Department required to begin practicing , the sailors become either crew or skippers. The skippers man the tiller and the mainsail, while the crew watches the jib. Usually the sailors with the most previous experience become skippers and the newer members become crew, Barrows said.
Once they get through this red tape and are assigned both a position and sailing partner, walk-ons have more work to come.
Walk-ons and recruits share a heavy practice routine and travel all over the region on weekends. Certain sailors compete at regattas that count heavily in national rankings, while there are other events in other locations open to sailors of all levels.
The coed team boasts one of the longest seasons of any varsity sport — it starts at the beginning of the school year and goes three weeks past the end of finals in late May. A break for the team comes with the Connecticut winter. The season usually ends around the same time as the Harvard-Yale game and resumes again in February.
Tuesday through Friday, sailors leave campus at 2:30 p.m. from Phelps Gate, and after an approximately 20-minute bus ride, arrive at the marina. At the Branford facility, the team members first set up the boats, then spend time doing drills to improve sailing speed and crew coordination, Belling said. They return to campus by about 6:30 p.m.
On Thursdays, the team hosts intra-team regattas, which mimic the usual race structure so sailors gain experience under pressure. There is also classroom time — something Morris says is emphasized in the early season — that acquaints veterans with new tactics and instructs walk-ons in the rules and strategy of the sport.
With a 2:30 p.m. start time that cuts into many Yale classes, sailing practice on a daily basis is not an option for many on the team. While the most serious sailors practice four days a week and sail every weekend, Ell said it is acceptable for team members not to attend every practice.
“There is a wide range [of sailing abilities],” Morris said of his fellow teammates. “Some of the walk-ons want to learn to sail, some are very serious. Some sail every single weekend like the top sailing recruits. I don’t know if they end up falling in love with it or not — there is a wide variety.”
Regardless of being a walk-on or being recruited, several Yale sailors said they fell in love with the sport and program. Crew Michael Hession ’10, who sailed with Morris when winds reached 20-30 knots at the Erwin Schell Trophy this past weekend, said the sailing team has been a key part of his Yale experience.
“It is a totally cool thing to share with [my teammates] and be a part of — it’s been the greatest part of being at Yale,” Hession said.